Railway Archaeology along the Bay of Quinte Line
hs as shown in the text.

Nothing like a fine fall day to explore local railway history and archaeology. Three CRHA Kingston Division members, George Dillon, Bill Thomson and I, David Page, set off on Wednesday 07 October 2009 to see what they could find of the Bay of Quinte Railway(BQR) line from Yarker to Tweed (see brief history of the BQR at the end of this article). This section of the BQR would be of most interest to Kingston-area members because it was part of Kingston-Tweed connection providing passenger service by successor CNR until 1925, and not abandoned until 1941.

George had seen some of the features of the line some 20 years ago, and spent part of his childhood in Tweed. His guidance, along with old topographical maps showing the abandoned line, enabled us three to spot and record the incredible amount of physical archaeology still visible nearly 70 years after railway operations had ceased.

We started our search in Yarker, at Sidings St., and walked across the CNoR “new bridge”, now part of a railway trail. From this bridge, on the north side, one can see an abutment in the Napanee River from the original BQR line to Harrowsmith and Sydenham. This lines up with stonework just visible in the brush alongside County Road (CR) #6, northbound, at the edge of the village of Yarker. The BQR old bridge track was one leg of the mainline wye at Yarker, the other two heading north to Enterprise, Tamworth and Tweed, and west to Napanee.

BQR bridge abutment at Yarker.

Bill Thomson photo

Next stop on the way north on CR#6, we wanted to see if the old topo maps were correct in showing the BQR alignment touching the roadway at the bridge over the Napanee River at its source, Camden Lake. Sure enough it did not take long to spot railway-type stonework adjacent to the current road bridge, with a short stretch of telltale gravel pathway leading up to it. Carrying on to the village of Enterprise, we located the station platform in a field just off West St., south of the main street. The station itself has been gone for some time.

The BQR high-level bridge over the current CPR Belleville sub was made necessary by the latter’s construction in 1913. It and its remains are situated just NW of Enterprise, and are a well-known artefact of the BQR. The closest access to this site is at a dirt road level crossing of the CPR, about ¼ mile to the east. The south abutment of the abandoned bridge is just visible from the CP crossing. We walked to the site and were interested to note that the abutments were of concrete and were badly eroded by time and the elements. In addition the south abutment is about six feet below the BQR grade meaning that there must have been a steel or other footing in place to fill in this gap and support the bridge span. The gap on the north side is even greater, perhaps 12 feet. A photo taken in 1958 in “Lost Horizons” shows the same relative heights, but without all the brush that has grown up in a half-century.

BQR bridge abutments at CP Belleville sub crossing.
Dave Page photo

Continuing on CR nos. 14 and 4 we enter Tamworth from the south, alongside the Salmon River. New housing and landscaping have obliterated all signs of the BQR right-of way where the line swept up to the northwest and crossed the river. Once in Tamworth, we made a hard left at the main intersection and went down Concession St. South.  About a ¼ mi along, there was the station in alarming pink(probably faded red) on the left, with a large, railway-style “TAMWORTH” sign prominently displayed. The station is the standard BQR design, with a two-storey main section with a full-height bay window, extending into a single-storey freight/express shed at one end. The building has become a house and still has the railway right of way (r-o-w) in front.

Tamworth station, Bill Thomson in foreground, George Dillon further back. 

Dave Page photo

Next on CR #4 and Hy 41 to Erinsville, pleasantly situated on Beaver Lake. The station is very easy to spot: it is in the lakefront park and has been white-washed completely. It is not occupied. The railway r-o-w is visible as it curves past the station and off to the east.

A further 8 km along CR #13 brought us to Marlbank, a former high-quality portland cement mining site and important customer of the BQR. The station in Marlbank, in the SW corner of the village, is now a well cared-for house, still with platform and baggage extension in place. The owner told us it is in good condition despite having been built in 1880s. The railway r-o-w is also well maintained, and is technically walkable back to Erinsville, although farmers have erected gates along the way to deter ATV operators who have damaged property.

Marlbank station, with r-o-w (and Bill Thomson) in foreground
Dave Page photo

On up Marlbank Rd toward Tweed we nearly zoomed on past Stoco station well hidden by trees, on the right, just past the (Moira) East Channel bridge (the present road is on the railway r-o-w).  This station, too, is a well-maintained house, of the same BQR standard design, but reversed, with the baggage section on the left. The owner told us that hers was the only station that still had the original room configuration inside. 

The last destination was Tweed itself. There is very little visible evidence of Tweed’s railway history, except for the CP Havelock sub railway trail at each end of River St., and the sturdy CP plate-girder, two-span bridge over the Moira at the east end.

CP Havelock sub bridge at Tweed. Sign on right refers to chipmunks, not railway history! George Dillon in foreground.
Dave Page photo

 BUT there is one BQR artefact left: well hidden, and, had George not remembered its location, it certainly would have been missed. The two-stall BQR enginehouse has been incorporated into a much-larger lumber warehouse, essentially intact. By good fortune the main door of the warehouse was open and we could see the enginehouse clearly. Its stone (or early concrete block) walls and steel beams are all visible and quite impressive. What a find!  The site is located in the SW corner of Tweed, just where the CPR and BQR crossed River St.. The Tweed map in “Lost Horizons” identifies the enginehouse as legend item no.3.

BQR two-stall enginehouse at Tweed, inside a lumber warehouse. Note stone wall and steel trusses centre left, rear. Pardon the sudden rain squall!
Bill Thomson photo

After a brief Timmie’s lunch we headed back home, satisfied that it had been a good day of exploration and discovery. It is too bad that none of the heritage artefacts that we saw are identified for others to enjoy as well. 

Brief History of the Bay of Quinte Railway(BQR)

The BQR was a creation of the Rathbun family business empire centred in Deseronto ON. The Rathbuns needed transportation services for their many industrial activities, including cement, mining, lumbering and manufacturing, and so incorporated the BQR and a steamship company to fill this need. The BQR’s first line was a short connection to the GTR at Deseronto Jct., and this was opened shortly after incorporation in 1881. With the Napanee, Tamworth and Quebec Rly. under BQR control, lines from Napanee to Yarker and Tamworth were opened in 1884, and in 1889 on to Tweed and also east to Harrowsmith. The latter provided a connection with the K&P, and, in turn, resulted in running rights into Kingston.

Subsequent expansions of the BQR included Napanee to Deseronto direct, on northward from Tweed to Bannockburn, and eastward to Sydenham. This filled out the extent of this small development railway. Decline of the Rathbun empire began in the first decade of the 20th century and with it, the BQR. In 1914 it became part of the CNoR who was building their ill-fated transcontinental line through some of the same territory. The BQR “network” unraveled as quickly as it had been built, with the original Deseronto Jct line being abandoned  in 1906, and passenger service from Tweed to Kingston ceasing in 1925. The Tweed to Bannockburn section was abandoned in the same year.  Tweed to Yarker section was closed by then-owner CNR in 1941. The final piece of the BQR, Deseronto to Napanee, was abandoned in 1986.

Other than the remaining archaeology described in the main article above, BQR artefacts are still visible in the form of station buildings, bridge abutments and embankments, scattered from Sydenham to Deseronto.

Kingston, ON,
15 October 2009

Kingston Rail

Home    Circle